In The Book Thief, how does the Jewish poet, whom the family hides, represent death?

Quick answer:

Max Vandenburg, the Jewish man whom the Hubermanns hide in their basement, represents death through his connection to his family members’ deaths and the likelihood that he will die in the Dachau camp. Because he vows to fight Death and does not die in Dachau, however, he primarily represents survival.

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Max Vandenburg is an important character in The Book Thief because of the close relationship he develops with Liesel and the risks the Hubermanns take to conceal him in the basement of their home. Max, who is Jewish, can be considered to represent death in relationship to his family’s deaths, about which he experiences considerable guilt. In addition, the threat of death hangs over his head because he is likely to die in a concentration camp. During the period he stays with the Hubermanns, death is also a constant danger for Hans and Rosa: all three of them could be killed if the Nazis discover they have been hiding him.

Max initially arrives at the Hubermanns’ home after losing contact with his family and learning that the Nazis had taken them away. He is racked with guilt about what he considers his abandonment of them, as he was in hiding while they were sent to a concentration camp. Although he leaves the Hubermanns’ house before he is himself apprehended, later he does get sent to Dachau. It seems almost certain that he will die there, but in the end it is revealed that he survived. Even more, he is reunited with Liesel.

Although Max is strongly associated with death, he is primarily shown as its antagonist. Even as a child, when his uncle died, Max vowed to fight Death with his fists. As Max does not die, he is a stronger representation of survival and thwarting Death.

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